Sparking conversation isn’t easy for everyone. If you find yourself flying solo at a networking event, here are five tips that will help you break the ice in a room full of strangers.
For some people, networking is hard work. It can be even more difficult when you’re not well-known among the crowd. That said, everyone started somewhere so here are a few tips to help you strike up a conversation with a complete stranger and kick-start what should become a lifelong endeavour.
1. Build your confidence
Before you accept a networking invitation, have a word with yourself. Make note of why you are interesting and worth talking to. This will help you play to your strengths and steer the conversation in a direction that suits you.
It’s also a good idea to read up on current affairs. Conversations clip along when people know a little about a lot, so listen with intent and give your partner in conversation plenty of room to talk. And if you can get them to talk about themselves, all the better – it’s their special subject!
2. Build ‘across the room’ rapport
Our brains tend to figure other people out at a glance, so pay attention to the vibes you emit. Are you swiping nervously on your smartphone, or walking tall with a smile and making eye contact? If it’s the latter, you have a much better chance of getting a warm welcome when you say hello for the first time.
If you acknowledge someone’s presence before you approach them, you’re no longer a random person. Acknowledgement or a reciprocated smile from another networker is a usually a sign that they’re open to conversation, so treat your entrance as a door-opening exercise.
3. Introduce yourself
The degree of formality you adopt will depend on the event but when in doubt, err on the side of caution and introduce yourself using your name, title and company. These details, coupled with the friendly nature of your approach, will help people formulate an idea of you as a person so offer a handshake with a smile and friendly eye contact.
If the crowd is broken into groups and there are no lost souls in sight, conventional wisdom would suggest the following: identify the ‘leader’ of the group and approach her or him. The leader will likely be an affable person in nature and open to new introductions.
4. Prepare a few opening lines
Some of the best networkers strike up a conversation with what can only be described as mundane remarks. The key ingredient, however, is that these remarks are delivered with confidence and a smile. Having a few one-liners at the ready will help you relax. And remember, they don’t have to be profound – just genuine.
5. Make contact in advance
Some light research will give you an idea of who will attend the event, or who will speak at the very least. Reach out to attendees or speakers through LinkedIn in advance. Perhaps you’re looking forward to their speech or would be interested in chatting through an idea. Making virtual contact in advance will act as a ‘soft’ introduction and make the initial ‘hello’ a lot easier on
If all else fails, go back to your school days. “I don’t know anyone here. Could I chat to you?” You might think this is weak, juvenile or unprofessional but if you see someone else who is also on their own, just try it. The likelihood is that they are in the same boat as you and would be relieved to make even one connection.
And on that point, don’t forget where you started. If, a few months or years from now, you’re a networking guru and thrive on meeting new people, keep an eye out for the quiet girl or guy in the room and say hello. You were that person once.